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Sunday, 14 October, 2001, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
New US anthrax cases emerge
Tests at Saint Petersburg mail processing centre
Investigators want to know if the cases are all linked
US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson has described the outbreaks of anthrax in the United States as an "act of terrorism".

But he said there was no direct evidence yet to link the anthrax-contaminated letters to the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

It certainly is an act of terrorism to send anthrax through the mail

US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson

Three more people are being treated with antibiotics for anthrax exposure in New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani confirmed.

They had been in contact with an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to NBC television.

Mayor Giuliani said anthrax spores were found on a police officer who retrieved the envelope, as well as on two lab technicians, but added: "This does not mean that they have anthrax".

The US Government trying to calm fears of a public health risk after a letter sent to an office of software giant Microsoft in Nevada was also found to contain anthrax.

Media link

All the cases to have been confirmed or suspected so far have been at media-related organisations.

Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun tabloid in Boca Raton, Florida, died from anthrax on 5 October.

Five more Florida-based employees of its parent company, American Media Inc, are being tested for suspected anthrax exposure. Conclusive results are not expected for several days.

Strains of anthrax
Respiratory: Similar beginnings to flu but shock occurs between two and six days later - frequently fatal
Intestinal: Severe food poisoning type symptoms - up to 50% mortality
Cutaneous: Rarely painful skin lesion - fatal in one in 20 cases
In an unusual twist, it has emerged that the wife of the Sun's editor rented an apartment to two of the hijackers in the 11 September terrorist attacks.

The FBI said the link between the attacks and the anthrax scare was purely coincidental.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft has added to the calls for vigilance.

He said it was "very likely" that some of the terrorists connected with 11 September or other attacks were still on American soil.

The authorities are still looking for 190 suspects in the United States.

anthrax spores
A letter sent to NBC carried the anthrax in brown granules

In the New York case, it was confirmed on Saturday that a letter sent to NBC contained traces of anthrax.

It was sent from Trenton, New Jersey on 18 September and contained a brown granular substance.

Before the latest three cases, an assistant to NBC television news anchor Tom Brokaw had tested positive for skin anthrax. She is said to be responding well to treatment with antibiotics.

Another NBC news employee from the same office is also receiving antibiotics after showing symptoms of anthrax exposure.

Malaysia connection

In Nevada, officials said the contents of a letter sent from Malaysia to a branch of Microsoft in Reno had tested positive for anthrax.

The contents, pornographic pictures, are now being sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for further tests.

Four employees who handled the letter have tested negative for exposure to anthrax while preliminary tests on two other employees are also negative.

Sign in New York pharmacist's window
Pharmacies are rationing sales of some antibiotics
The Malaysian authorities said they would co-operate fully with the US authorities in investigating the incident, but were unable to confirm that the contents of the letter did indeed originate in Malaysia.

Mr Thompson suggested that it was not especially difficult for someone to obtain anthrax spores from a laboratory.

"Somebody can have walked out with a vial or some sort of specimen and grew it," he said.

Demand for drugs

Hospital emergency centres in parts of the US are reported to be busy with people worried about the scare. Some pharmacies are limiting supplies of ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat the disease, after unusually strong demand.

Mr Thompson said the authorities had more than two million doses to treat two million people for 60 days for exposure to anthrax.

US Vice President Dick Cheney has said he cannot rule out the involvement of Osama Bin Laden, who is suspected of masterminding the 11 September terror attacks.

Experts believe the anthrax so far discovered is not the specially-made type of the disease which would be used in a biological warfare attack.

French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner sought on Sunday to allay fears of a terrorist biological attack in his country.

He said France was resuming production of smallpox vaccine because of concern about the risk of attack.

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Washington
"There is still no evidence the biological assaults are connected with the September 11th attacks"
The BBC's Tim Franks
on the US public's reaction to the outbreaks of anthrax
Bio-Terrorism Analyst, John Parachini
says the incidences of anthrax exposure in America should not cause widespread panic
See also:

14 Oct 01 | Americas
NY urged not to panic over anthrax
12 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: A widespread threat?
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax: How do you stop it?
10 Oct 01 | Health
Anthrax as a biological weapon
09 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax infection
25 Jul 01 | Scotland
Britain's 'Anthrax Island'
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax
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